‘The Barber’ meets Letterman

Sounds & Fury
I just finished watching the tape of the 8 November Il Barbiére Met-Letterman Show (taped because I had other things to do at airtime), and if it was the Met’s intention to convince those who never attend opera because they know it’s stuffy, old-fashioned fare involving a bunch of screeching singers who just stand there dressed up in antique costumes making exaggerated gestures to no purpose while singing everything, none of it meaningful or of any importance, instead of speaking it like normal human beings, all to music that was passé a century ago, that they were right all along, then it succeeded brilliantly. Whomever was responsible at the Met for putting together this sorry mess ought to be hung by his you-know-whats, and left to twist in the wind (I assume the responsible party was male; if female, modify, mutatis mutandis).

That’s the beginning of an entry from his Sounds & Fury blog by (the still wonderfully opinionated) A.C. Douglas. I love his tremendously long, convoluted sentences, and that first one is a prime example. The important thing, though, is what it has to say about the new direction the Met’s new director is so quickly moving it in. Appearing on the Letterman show was earlier hailed as a hugely significant step. This quote is typical of the pre-event hype: Peter Gelb has been sending every possible signal that the Metropolitan Opera is a new place under his leadership — the kind of place where great art intersects with mainstream American life. And now this: “Opera buffs can get a sneak peak at the Met’s upcoming production of Rossini’s ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’ (that’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ for all of you barbarians) tomorrow on, of all places, ‘Late Show With David Letterman.’ It will be the first time Letterman, an opera fan, has had an opera production as his musical guest.”

I must say that I wasn’t exactly over the moon when I first heard about the move, and I’d be very, very wary of Mr Gelb’s too-rapid change of direction, which looks a bit too much like being as different as possible from his predecessor just for the sake of it. I know there was a lot of criticism of the Met productions and how ‘traditional’ they were, how much the Met audiences tended towards being mostly elderly ladies with blue rinses, and how much the Met needed to become ‘more experimental’. But isn’t there a lot to be said for knowing where you stand, or for knowing what to expect? Wasn’t it significant, when members of the Music Group were choosing a DVD version of an opera, how often the comment was made about a Met production: ‘Well, that’s bound to be a good old-fashioned approach anyway, with no ridiculous re-interpretation by prima donna producers.’ And what’s wrong with that? Let the other houses put on their silly nonsense. The Met needs to move much more slowly if it plans to change its tack. Festina lente, Mr Gelb!

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